Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pope to Metropolitans

Bishops are called to watch over their faithful not like "a prison guard," but with the same love and concern that God watches over the world, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"To watch from God's perspective is to watch with that love that wants to serve the other, to help the other truly become him- or herself," the pope said June 29 during his homily on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

During the Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, 34 archbishops from 20 countries knelt before Pope Benedict and received a pallium, a woolen band worn around their shoulders as a sign of their authority and their responsibility as shepherds.

The prelates named in the past year to head archdioceses and receiving their palliums included: Archbishops Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit; George J. Lucas of Omaha, Neb.; Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis; Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans; J. Michael Miller of Vancouver, British Columbia; Pierre-Andre Fournier of Rimouski, Quebec; and Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England.

Participating in the Mass were Orthodox representatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The patriarch sends a delegation to the Vatican each year on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Vatican's patrons, and the pope sends a delegation to Turkey each year for the feast of St. Andrew, patron of the patriarchate.

In his homily, Pope Benedict said the First Letter of St. Peter describes Jesus as "the bishop of souls."

"This means that he sees us from God's perspective. Watching from God's point of view, he has a vision of the whole and he sees dangers as well as hopes and possibilities," the pope said.

Those appointed to serve the church as bishops must model their ministry on that of Christ, working to ensure that everyone comes to know God and to be part of the community of faith, he said.

Watching over the faithful, the pope said, "certainly does not mean surveillance as is fitting for a prison guard. Rather it means seeing from on high, from the heights of God."

The words "bishop" and "shepherd" are almost interchangeable, he said.

"To shepherd the flock means to be careful that the sheep find the right nourishment," which for Christians is the word of God, he said. Shepherds also "must know how to resist enemies, the wolves. He must lead, indicating the path and preserving the unity of the flock," the pope added.

Bishops also have a responsibility to help people see the Christian faith not "simply as a tradition, but to recognize it as the answer to our questions," he said.

But to discover the relevance of faith for everyday life, the pope said, it is not enough just to think things through or to hear explanations.

"We need the experience of faith, a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith must not remain a theory; it must be lived," he said.

Pope Benedict said the beginning of St. Peter's letter cites the goal of Christianity as the "salvation of souls," a term the pope said is seldom used today and one that sounds strange to modern ears.

The terminology makes some people think Christians are dividing the human person into separate components of body and soul, while others think it focuses so much on the individual that it loses sight of the responsibility to protect and save the whole world.

"But this has nothing to do with the Letter of St. Peter. His zeal for witnessing hope and responsibility for others characterizes the entire text," he said.

"Without the healing of souls, without healing people from the inside, humanity cannot be saved," the pope said.

"It is obedience to the truth that makes the soul pure. And it is living with lies that pollutes it. Obedience to the truth begins with the little truths of daily life," he said, but it extends to "obedience without reservation to the truth itself, which is Christ."

Pope Benedict told the archbishops that, like Jesus, they are called to carry the lost sheep around their shoulders and bring them back to safety. The lost sheep are not just members of the Catholic Church who may have lost their way, but are all of humanity, he said.

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